We are living in the first time in recorded history when entire societies are fighting obesity, not just in adults but in children. Children who are obese have a significantly more difficult time staying fit as adults, not to mention the health problems such as high cholesterol and diabetes that occur early on and worsen with time. One of the biggest responsibilities we are given as human beings is to keep our children healthy and safe. That, as you parents well know, isn’t always easy to do. It can, in fact, be an uphill battle. It’s hard enough to get children to eat the food we prepare for them, but then most of our little ones are exposed to all sorts of sugary, processed foods filled with preservatives and chemicals at school and in the media. After all, you don’t see leprechauns and silly rabbits advertising broccoli or quinoa. And they don’t get toys with their meals at the salad bar. So how do you keep your children healthy in the midst of so much (pardon me for saying so) but garbage food? Well if you have very young children, my advice is to start early on serving a wide variety of healthy foods. Introducing a healthy variety to your family’s diets early will expand their taste palates as they grow. If you are revamping your eating habits a little later in your children’s lives then we’ll use the phrase “choose your battles.” Focus on what’s most important. Here’s a list of what are considered by health experts the most important nutrients for a child’s growth.
Vitamin D: Children who are often sick usually have one thing in common: a Vitamin D deficiency. This is one reason it is very important for children to play outside. Even in chilly weather, bundle yourselves and your children up and get some fresh air and sunshine. Also many types of fish such as tuna and Cod Liver Oil (not nearly as gross as it sounds) are great sources of Vitamin D. Vitamin D3 supplements are helpful if you believe your child is not getting enough.
Fiber: Fiber is a very important part of any person’s diet. Make sure your children are eating enough fiber from whole grain foods and raw fruits and vegetables. Diets low in fiber increase the risk for childhood obesity and diabetes.
Calcium: It is important for children to get enough calcium. Think about it: the body needs calcium to build bones. Since our skeleton is still growing for the first 18 or so years of our lives it is crucial that the bones we build are strong enough to last many decades. Do NOT fall under the common assumption that dairy is the best provider of calcium. While dairy products may have more mgs of calcium per serving, the body actually absorbs plant based calcium sources more efficiently. Almond butter, figs, oranges, kiwis, spinach, kale, brown rice and many more fruits, grains and nuts are excellent sources of calcium and fiber. And you know that it’s important for each thing your child eats to be as full of nutrients as possible.
Omega 3’s: In addition to a healthy body, healthy brain development is crucial in early years. Try to introduce wild caught salmon into your children’s diets. It’s so important for them to have a taste for healthy proteins. Eggs and walnuts are also phenomenal sources of Omega-3’s. Be sure to buy natural or organic eggs. Chickens are often fed high doses of antibiotics and estrogen to minimize disease and maximize egg and meat production. Traces of these substances are found in conventional eggs and have quite a negative impact on our children’s development.
Before I close out this blog I’d like to discuss exercise. A common complaint among parents of small children is that they don’t have time to exercise. Similarly one of the leading causes of juvenile obesity is lack of proper exercise. Going back to what I said about getting sufficient Vitamin D: take your children outside and play! You don’t need a gym membership, just play a game of tag in the yard or at the park. Go on a nature hunt for leaves and bugs. Teach your children how to play hop-scotch. Not only is the physical activity excellent for both you and your little ones, but having your children associate being active with having fun will set them on the right road towards a healthy, happy life.
Raising our children well is our most important job in life. It’s not always easy, in fact in this day and age it is harder than ever. But what your child can accomplish with a healthy body and mind from the start can be a great reward for a job well done.